The Wicker Man Director Robin Hardy: Q&A
Director of the cult classic spoke about his original film at a double bill screening that also featured sequel, The Wicker Tree.
On how the cast became involved with The Wicker Man.
The cast was a mixture of wonderful Scottish actors from the Citizen's Theatre in Glasgow and of course some wonderful actors from down here. From the very beginning Christopher Lee was part of the plan to make the film and his contribution throughout was extraordinary. Two extraordinary fine actors I think [Lee and Edward Woodward]. Christopher, who is a film star, when he's on screen it's very difficult to look at anyone else. Edward on the other hand is just a consummate actor and the two of them together are just a fascinating duo and I feel very lucky to have worked with them both.
On how aware he was, when making the film, that it was something special.
Tony Schaeffer and I had been partners in a film company for about fifteen years when the film was made and we had a bad habit of playing enormously complicated practical jokes on each other. Many people who have wondered how the genesis of how The Wicker Man came about may not be aware of this and these practical jokes were sometimes virtually fatal! The more extreme they were the more we enjoyed them and when we decided that we were going to give up making television commercials and television series and do something a little more serious, he wrote Sleuth. We decided we'd like to do the flip side of the Hammer horror films - what is actually behind witchcraft and all that. In other words the pagan religion which gives us the days of the week and the months of the year, all the things which are pagan in our lives and which we take for granted. I did the research and he wrote the screenplay, we produced a film which is an elaborate game. That moment on the cliffs where Christopher says, "we've led you every pace of the way here." That is his trap, his game has worked. We are supposed to have seen the clues all the way through the film, clues which are put in plain sight, you can see them but you have to know what you're looking for. That for us was the pleasure of making this film.
On the importance of music in The Wicker Man and The Wicker Tree.
It's very important indeed. We were creating a rather unique genre of film and while that was fun for us and audiences have enjoyed it, it was a bit of a disaster when it came to selling it because the distributer said, "it's all very fine and we enjoyed it but how the hell do we sell it? Is it a comedy? Is it a horror film? What is it?" So at the beginning we couldn't get a distributor to think about distributing it. So I distributed it myself pretty much in the States and it was there that it really became what it has become. We opened it in San Francisco at the Castro Theatre, we had pagans protesting that we were going to give a bad name to pagans and was actually slightly frightened. I had to face them! Anyway they calmed down and the film was an enormous success there, it ran 30 weeks in San Francisco. It's interesting that Americans took to it the way that they did. I think that they loved the music. I think it's [the music] absolutely vital. Take the music away, whatever the value of the acting and the dialogue and rest of the film tends to fall to pieces. When the remake of The Wicker Man was done it had wall to wall elevator music, it had no songs it had nothing which was relevant to paganism. I don't really know what it had apart from the plot. The plot is okay but it's not all that extraordinary.
On how he feels that different generations discover and embrace The Wicker Man.
We're already three and half decades from the original making of the film and seems to go on. We've been helped by that fact that it’s a film, I must say, that academics like because there's a lot to chew and a lot to pull to pieces and think about. It's got quite a lot of meat in the sandwich The had a huge Wicker Man conference at Glasgow University a few years ago and I was amazed because there were papers, "The Wicker Man and Wittgenstein," "The Wicker Man and feminism." Neither Tony Shaeffer nor I had thought about feminism when we made the film. There are lots of little sub-plots and sub-thoughts in these films and some would say that they're distracting and it would be better not to have them but it's partly because we enjoyed what we were doing and enjoyed placing these slight irrelevancies to see if they helped the audience to puzzle out what was going on that I think the film is as interesting as it is to people who write about films. I went to a pagan festival in Croydon of all places and there were a lot of young people and some said, "you do realise that it's [in our] A-Level for media studies." It's almost like Jane Austen being the English Lit thing and the Wicker Man being the media studies thing.
On THAT scene with Britt Ekland.
I particularly liked the idea of having someone in the next room who is conjuring up for you a marvellous image, romantic or erotic. We had the song written especially by Paul Giovanni and I think it's something that Britt did very well. I was in a recording studio in Scotland last year and the guy who was doing the recording for me said, "you may be interested to know that my mother was Britt Ekland's bum." What an extraordinary coincidence! When we rehearsed the scene we went through all the movements, I showed Britt through the camera with her double exactly what we would be seeing and at a certain point she said, "you can't shoot that with me I've got an arse like a ski slope. I'd really rather not [shoot it]." I and the first assistant director went down to Glasgow and went to all the strip clubs to try to find an appropriate bottom! We found one and we had to go to the man who ran the club and say, "could we have this young lady for 24 hours while we shoot this sequence?" And he said, "Oh she's my best girl, you won't keep her long will you?" I assured him we wouldn't keep her long and I was horrified about two weeks later to see she was one of the crew. Anyway, that's the only moment that isn't Britt.
On "The Wicker Man 3."
[laughs] It certainly is not going to happen in 3D I can assure you! But it is going to happen, I think. I believe. The trouble with our film making profession is we rely on finding money and if we find the money we'll make the film. I'm hoping to make it in the Shetland Islands and it will be these Gods who have taken these terrible sacrifices from mankind and it will be their comeuppance. And it's very loosely, musically based on the last act of the ring cycle, Götterdämmerung.